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Former science teacher pursues medicine through Population-based Urban and Rural Community Health track

Since she was a child, Stella Barth dreamed of becoming a doctor. As a student, she gravitated toward science classes and conducting research. But after graduating from Harvard College with a bachelor’s degree in neurobiology, she took a different path.

The Stoneham native taught science for eight years, first at Newton Country Day School in Newton and later the Williams School in New London, Connecticut, before arriving at the T.H. Chan School of Medicine last fall.

“Medical school was always something that was still in the back of my mind,” Barth said. “I eventually decided to apply to medical school and UMass Chan. The school really jumped out at me. Being from Massachusetts, I felt that they really valued having students from Massachusetts come and train as doctors within the community of Worcester County.”

Barth is a first-generation college and medical student. She is part of the Population-based Urban and Rural Community Health (PURCH) track, which focuses on population health, health care disparities and health issues specific to urban and rural communities. She chose the PURCH track because the close-knit community felt like her teaching community. Students in this program study alongside physicians at Baystate Health.

“We get these one-on-one sessions with them where we talk with them and then we get to actually go see patients with them,” Barth said. “Already I feel like I've developed a good rapport with my preceptor and his patients, and I feel like that's just the intimate clinical community contact that you want in a program like this.”

In between teaching and medical school, Barth worked as a clinical research coordinator at a spinal cord injury research lab at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and completed a postbac pre-med program at Harvard. She has been able to work with patients with spinal cord injuries and watch how they progress over time. After medical school, she wants to practice neurological physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Last fall, Barth presented her research findings on spinal cord injuries at two national conferences: the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and the Society for Neuroscience. She said it’s important to learn about health care through individual people within communities and what they need over time, because that changes.

“Working with people with a wide variety of spinal cord injuries and paralysis has taught me a lot about how people make adjustments to continue interacting with their environment when their bodies no longer behave like they used to,” Barth said. “I'm very dedicated to working with people with neurological injuries and other functional deficits.”

Barth is thriving on the path she’s taken, and she encourages others to follow their dream as well.

“I'm an older, nontraditional student. It doesn't matter how long you've been out of school,” she said. “I took a decade off before going to medical school, and I wouldn't have it any other way.”

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